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And for filers, that fresh start comes with its own set of gifts and liabilities.
If you're considering bankruptcy, or just want to know more about it, here are 14 key factors to consider: 1. Chapter 7 allows the filer to walk away from debts entirely.
"In 50 to 60 percent of cases, there are medical problems present," he says.
Filing bankruptcy also halts, at least temporarily, collection attempts and foreclosures.
If you're unemployed or recently re-employed but facing foreclosure because of missed payments, Chapter 13 can help you save your home, says Sommer.
"In fact, it's one of the most common uses for Chapter 13," he says. Filing bankruptcy doesn't mean giving up all your possessions.
The reason: If you can afford your mortgage payments on your salary (or expected salary), Chapter 13 allows you to repay missed payments over three to five years. When it comes to which assets you can keep in bankruptcy, rules vary widely by state. You keep your personal property, such as clothes, electronics, household furnishings and other exempt assets.
It can also stall a foreclosure long enough for you to get re-employed. In addition, income and expense limits used for determining whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 will vary by location. Depending on your state laws, the type of bankruptcy you file, and your finances, you can sometimes retain larger assets, such as cars and the family home. The two types of bankruptcy are very different tools.
If you were out of work and got behind on the house payments but can now meet your mortgage, a Chapter 13 might be your best option.
If you don't own a home but are struggling with medical bills, then Chapter 7 might be a better choice.
Like any major financial decision, you need to gather information.
Write down the assets that are important to you, and what you need to get from your bankruptcy. Consumers must show through income (if they are below the state median) or through both income and expenses (if they are above the state median) that they can't repay their debts. Costs vary depending on your attorney and location.